Let me preface this post by saying, if your community has a police ride-along program, you should RUN not walk to the police station and sign up. It is must-see tv up close and personal.
I was worried that the officer would find my presence annoying, but he said that he enjoys the company, and by the way he acted, I believed him. Once I thought about it, who wouldn’t want to spend a couple of hours impressing the average citizen with computers and lights and incredible acceleration?
Lucky for me nothing too exciting happened. I’m somewhat of a chicken (which is why I signed up for a Sunday! If you want action, obviously you’ll want to go for a Friday or Saturday night…) but I got just what I wanted — a backstage pass to hang out with a hero.
My first revelation came when the officer saw a suspicious character and immediately drove TOWARDS him. My gut instinct is always to run AWAY from trouble screaming like a little girl, and I am seriously shocked and awed by people who are drawn in its direction. Aren’t we lucky that I am not in law enforcement!!!
My second big eye-opener was to realize how much investigation is involved. You know how sometimes a patrol car will come up on your tail really fast and you are painfully certain that they are going to pull you over? Then they disappear? Several times last night he followed someone and called in their tag, then let them go when he found out it wasn’t who he was looking for. PHEW!
And this is just one example of the eagle eyes that the officer develops in the line of duty. Many times throughout the night he would say, “Did you see that?” and I’m looking around wildly into the darkness and then I would finally spot what he saw. They are constantly scanning for the slightest thing out of place, the smallest sign of suspicious activity, the cars belonging to the people who must have warrants served on them, the faces of wanted people, cars violating traffic laws… etc. My eyes are only tuned to making sure that traffic is staying where it is supposed to so I can avoid an accident. For a police officer that is only step one in a long line of visual sorting and decision-making.
I was able to observe how 911 operators are heroes as amazing as the law enforcement out on the street, and the officer gladly acknowledged this. Within a second he could have the attention of a dispatcher, and his request for information would be responded to within a few more seconds. They are an efficient and reliable team and I feel very secure knowing that these would be the people working to help me should I ever need it.
Some other random tidbits:
He said that, unlike an episode of “Cops”, police work is 90% boring (paperwork, checking on buildings, driving through neighborhoods, lying in wait for traffic infractions) and 10% exciting. He says he is an adrenaline junkie so he lives for that 10%. (I would be avoiding it like the plague!)
He pointed out how people slam on their brakes when they see his car, which actually makes the road more dangerous. I saw this first hand when he had a difficult time maneuvering through traffic to get to a suspicious car because people began to assume unpredictable speeds as soon as he got close. Just act cool, people!
He is collecting his evidence and composing his argument to the judge from the first moment he spots a subject or situation. He has an eye and mind to make sure that a wrong-doer is successfully prosecuted so that the system has the chance to work the way lawmakers intended, and that he, as an officer of the law, does not mess up a single one of the jillion procedures he is supposed to follow, resulting in a criminal getting away with their crime.
And to dispel a final myth: He did not eat a single donut all night.
I cannot express strongly enough how impressed I was with this officer and the department he represents. I learned a lot and highly recommend the experience to any concerned citizen.